Starting From Scratch

A Return to the Beginning

What ever happened to a blank, white piece of paper?  Why is it that every app or tech tool claiming to inspire creativity simply has the user fill in a template?

I’ve recently switched jobs, and in the process (thanks in part to @sadieclorinda), have become enamored of a couple of concepts, one of which is teaching students the design process with the end user in mind. Instead of simply assigning a PowerPoint project where the students choose a template and cram each slide with as many facts as possible, have them think first of the end user.  What will their experience be like? What types of presentations do they like to view, and why?

One of the first steps is to toss the word ‘project’ and replace it with ‘product’.

The next step is to have them go through the design process, and start with blank slides (or docs, or whatever), thinking about what mood they want to portray, the feelings they want to convey to the audience.  Then, they can match color scheme with fonts and layout to create a product that is pleasing to the end user.

As an example, here is how I would make a slide that would present my winter haiku

Step 1: Write Haiku

blizzards swirling ’round / erasing summer palettes / blinding I now see

The message I want to convey is confusion, cold, with limited color.

Step 2: Find my Palette

There are color palettes already chosen in just about every creative tool, but what’s the fun in that? My new favorite tech tools are the palette generators.  I use Adobe Capture for my phone, and coloors.co for my desktop.  Nature seems to do a bang up job of combining colors, so if you take a picture of something in Nature, the color combination should be a winner.  Today, I took a picture of the morning sky with its great cool colors, and put it in Adobe Capture:

WinterSky_Palette

Then, I thought about font.  I like the idea of pairing two contrasting fonts, one to show the swirling snow (a script font) and another to show the weight of blindness and the feeling of loss of control and color (a bold headline font).

Font_Pairings

Then, on a Google Slide, I can easily arrange all my elements (a GSlide is much easier for this than a GDoc!).  Normally, I would use Canva.com, but I’m using what a student would likely have as part of their Google Classroom toolbox.

Blizzards

In making this slide, I actually lightened the lights, and darkened the dark since I couldn’t alter the transparency of the photograph.

Looking at the finished product, I wouldn’t give myself a good grade for finding a photograph that illustrated the poem (or in this case, writing a poem that fit the photo!).  BUT, I started from scratch, and used the design process to visualize what I wanted the end user to view.

***LATER***

OK. So, I gave it back to myself and redid it – just as I would expect a student to do.

Blizzards (2)

 

Another perk to starting from scratch is that everything here is my own work, so I don’t have to worry about copyright!

 

 

 

 

Do You Want to Join Our Group? #12MonthsBlogging

Much has been written about the efficacy of teachers reflecting on their practice through blogging.  

As teachers, we often ask students to reflect on their learning; since we are the lead learners in our classrooms, shouldn’t we be reflecting too?  Some people keep a journal. My daughter creates journal entries a couple times a week, and she tells me that she talks about what happened at school or with her friends (no, I haven’t read it – there hasn’t been a need).  Other people (like me) don’t want to write something that no one will ever read.  That’s when a real, authentic audience cinches the deal and makes blogging a win-win situation for me. If someone else is actually going to read what I write, then I’ll take the time to edit and make sure I’m writing exactly what I want to say.

 

The problem with blogging comes down to actually writing. Is it writer’s’ block? Is it fear that people will label my choice of topics as cliche? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because writing inevitably ends up at the bottom of my to-do list.  Perhaps there’s fear that my readers will find my topics boring or boorish.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  A reflective blog is about MY learning, and if others somehow receive drive-by benefits, then it’s a bonus for both of us.  

Writing and editing a post doesn’t really take that long, so what I need is a support group to keep me on task – you know THOSE people who nag you until you finish (start?) your workout or call your mom? I need a group of fellow educators intent on improving their craft to join with me as I work through my teaching.  Is doesn’t matter what your job title is.  You could be a superintendent or a custodian.  We are all in the business of ‘doing what’s best for kids’ and in our collective effort of furthering that cause, we can learn from each other.

Enter #12monthsblogging.

For each month, there will be an overarching topic with specific writing prompts.  You can write your own post about the topic, or if you need more focus, use one of the prompts.  OR (in an effort to be totally student-driven) disregard the prompt all together and write something of your own choosing.  It doesn’t really matter what you write about – just make sure you have a message to communicate.  Fully flesh out your idea, and post it on your blog.  Advertise it on Twitter using the hashtag #12monthsblogging.

#12monthsblogging monthly topics

Finally, while you’re on Twitter, check out #12monthsblogging yourself, read some posts by fellow bloggers, and leave a comment or two.  

In the end, I’m hoping that regular posting to my blog will help me solidify some of my opinions on education.  That way, when people ask my opinion on a topic, I will have already examined my own biases, explored the evidence, and come up with a reasoned take on the subject.

I’m hoping you’ll join us – there’s no need to sign up, just post and tag on Twitter!

Unique Professional Development Program Launched

It’s been several years in the making, but I’ve finally finished the process of developing a unique approach to District-wide professional development.  It involves monthly challenges and microcredentials, both with the ultimate goal of enabling people to become a Connected Educator.

Four possible badges to earn

Four possible badges to earn

As I wrote to my District in an email this morning:

Certified Staff, Administrators, and Board Members,
With each new mandate and each new set of standards, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  Some days I wonder why I’m still in this profession. 
But then I look to my amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN) of educators from around the world (literally) who are all so positive and see the good in what we do, that I’m recharged and remember why I finally chose education after drifting from job to job throughout my twenties.  It’s because we are the backbone of society – without education, a free democracy cannot exist. 
Since I am a ‘Connected Educator,’ I have access to thousands of teachers’ ideas and resources; I can’t imagine going back to working in the dark, by myself.
Some of you are also Connected Educators, but not very many. I would like to see everyone in this district reap the benefits of establishing your own PLN.  The trick is that, just like our students, every teacher has different needs and comes from a different place, so there is no one-size-fits-all model.  I first started thinking about this in 2012, and came up with the term Personalized Professional Development (PPD).  That blog post became one of my most-read entries, and culminated in a presentation at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference on the same topic.  
Just like in biological evolution when a certain characteristic can appear in completely unrelated populations (like fins for swimming), PPD sprang up all around that year – it’s now a ‘thing’, and a Google search brings up millions of entries.  I firmly believe it’s the best way to grow your professional self, and would like to invite you to a special community.
We are looking for 20 people from District 90 to take part in a Pilot of #OFD90Learns.  
#OFD90Learns is a program where you earn microcredentials. There are two paths:  badges and monthly challenges.  You can choose one or both to work on next year.  I think all your questions will be answered here.  
Remember, this is a Pilot Group of no more than 20.  If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, click here to accept the invitation and register.  If not, the SIP Committee and I are still planning a great lineup of PD for next year’s SIP Days.  Stay tuned.
If, after you read the Program Description, you still have questions, be sure to ask!
I can’t wait to start.  This is gonna be great!
I welcome any feedback!  Thanks, too, to the many people who have already critiqued, written posts about their own experiences, and presented at #METC16 on their PD programs.  I appreciate you all.

Breaking in to Corporate America: (Im)possible?

In my inbox today, I found an email from LinkedIn telling me about a job that would be perfect for me:  Manager of Curriculum Development at Charter Communications (a huge cable TV/network company).  The title made it sound like it was right up my alley, so I clicked through to read more about it.  The initial paragraph sounded like a head of Professional Development for a school district.  Great!  Sign me up.  Down at the bottom, under “Preferred Qualifications,” (and aside from the ‘knowledge of cable television products and services a plus’) it sounded like everything a teacher or school administrator does.

YET nowhere under “Education (level and type)” did it mention Education as an acceptable degree.

photo (1)

When will educators be recognized as having experience in training?  Who else has more practical knowledge of content delivery systems, facilitation, and presentation?  It just irks me that we are not respected enough to be considered as viable candidates for the corporate world.

I think I’ll apply and see what happens.

 

New Job Prerequisite: Failure

PosterPic

 

I ran across this poster from Startup Vitamins about a year ago when I toured the T-Rex complex in downtown St. Louis.  My copy of it now stands on display behind my desk.  It reminds me to take a chance, to push myself outside my comfort zone, and to take the occasional risk.

I think the teaching community needs to add a prerequisite onto all our job descriptions – a criteria that needs to be met before a candidate can even apply for his/her first job:  “A successful candidate must be willing to take a chance, and to have experienced a painful failure at least once in their life.”  By talking in the interview about how the candidate learned from that failure will speak volumes about their character, and about how they will approach the challenges of their career.  I would rather hire a teacher who had started out as an entrepreneur and had lost everything than someone who had never missed an ‘A’ in school.

There is something to be said for being able to get up, dust yourself off, and get right back in there teaching big and on the edge again, teetering between epic fail and epic win.

Who fails? The teacher.  Who wins? The teacher AND all his/her students.

To me there is no alternative.

Ground Zero: Creating a Tech Integration Program From Scratch

As I sat down today to really think about creating a technology integration program, I was struck by the magnitude of opportunity I have before me.

How often does one have the chance to create a program from the ground up?  How often does one have the ability to create it on your own, since you are the program?  Not often, if ever.

It’s not like I sat down and just put something down.  With the help of my PLN, I’ve been learning about what’s really important in education, how to best teach teachers technology, and how technology can really drive positive change in schools.  So clearly I’ve been pondering this for about the last year.  About three-quarters of last year’s time was taken up with teaching and all that goes with that (’nuff said).  This year, I will be a full time Tech Coach, so I need a structure, a curriculum with standards, from which to work.

To accomplish this, I started with the biggest picture and progressively narrowed the scope.  I looked at my District’s vision and mission statements, and then the same documents from the Technology Department.  With those open in one window, I was able to craft a first draft mission statement for my Program:

To provide District teachers, administration, and staff with the resources, training, and support necessary to integrate technology into the existing curriculum emphasizing 21st century skills and authentic, relevant learning.

 Taking this mission and Danielson’s Instructional Specialist Rubric (which is used by my District for my evaluation), I was then able to create three broad goals for the program:

1.  training – To develop and provide relevant and meaningful training sessions for faculty and staff of District 90 in the areas of iPad use in the classroom, Web 2.0 tools using the PC labs, and District software programs.

2.  resources – To develop and provide relevant and meaningful digital and print resources to help teachers and staff integrate technology tools into their professional lives.

3.  method for data collection & program improvement – To continually collect and review data from teachers and students on the effectiveness of the Program, and to then modify the training and resources to better fit the needs of the teachers and staff as a whole.

I then went on to create timelines, action steps, resources, etc. (but I don’t think you want to see all those).  HOWEVER, I do want feedback on these goals and on my Mission Statement.  What needs to be added/deleted/substituted?

Thanks in advance for your comments!

Maintain Professional Authority & Responsibility

IcarusI’m currently reading The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin in preparation for an Icarus Session to which I’ve been invited this week (more on that later).  During our Family Reading Time today, I highlighted this quote:

“[I]f you rely on external motivation to be your best self, then you will have ceded responsibility and authority to someone else.”  ~ Seth Godin The Icarus Deception p. 110

This then made a connection in my brain with the attitude of many teachers as our district works to implement a new form of Teacher Evaluation, and as I work to implement technology-related professional development.  Why do so many teachers fear the new evaluation instrument?  Why do so many teachers fear edtech?

For those who already know me, you’ve realized by now that I operate under a couple assumptions which I feel can prevent ceding responsibility and authority over what I do to someone else:

ASSUMPTION #1:  Always start with trust.

ASSUMPTION #2:  There is a Helper Gene buried in our DNA, and all educators have it and express it (and if you are someone without the HG phenotype, then you need to find a new career).

Seth Godin’s quote can be restated thus:  If you rely on the results of your Teacher’s Evaluation to be the best teacher you can be for your students, then you have effectively given your principal (or whomever evaluates you) the responsibility  and authority over you and your teaching.  You are being judged on how well your principal motivates you, not on you as the teacher responsible for your students’ learning.  If you are the type of teacher who needs constant reassurance or repeated check-ins by the principal in order to keep your eye on the goal you wrote for this next year (you know, the one you penned only because you had to fill in that box on your evaluation form?), then you must not have a strong helper gene, and perhaps you should find another career.

Wouldn’t you rather be judged on who YOU are as an individual? As a teacher? If you can look inside yourself and say with certainty that you have done everything in your power for the good of your students and your school, then an overall sense of pride, self-worth, and job satisfaction should be the primary result.  As a corollary, a positive evaluation should naturally follow from your supervisor.  When you are responsible for your own motivation, the summative conference conversations can be focused on ‘what can I add to my A-game?’ rather than ‘You tell me what I need to do to have an A-game.’

In my mind, an effective teacher always works toward a personal vision of helping kids become successful.  The purpose of the evaluation instrument is to help guide and expand this personal vision to coincide with that of the school and of education-at-large.

I am sure there are some out there, but I have never met, talked with, or heard stories about a vindictive evaluator.  Usually, the evaluators have past experience in the positions they critique, and have strong helper genes that want to help people improve their A-game.  A good place to start in your relationship with the person who writes your teacher evaluation is one of trust.  Between that initial trust and the desire to help people, you can draw on your intrinsic motivation to maintain authority over your own future as a teacher.

Importance of Focusing on the Big Picture in #EdTech

I’m in a bit of a quandary right now.

photo: strategydriven.com

photo: strategydriven.com

It’s (almost) the end of the year, and planning has started for the next.  At this point, I’m feeling like I need to be more effective – to work smarter, and to focus myself so that I can focus others.   In order to achieve this goal, I find that the first step is to focus on the bigger picture.

Like many others with the title ‘Technology Integration Specialist’ (or something similar), I came to this new (for my district) position last year in a round about way.  For me, the idea of being the person to define a brand new position was too enticing to pass up.  So, after several years in the classroom and several years in administration, I became the District Technology Integration Specialist.  About 4 weeks before school started, the superintendent told me that I would also be teaching elementary kids Monday – Wednesday, reducing my time for interacting with teachers to two days each week.

Planning for next year has started, and I won’t be teaching any more (as of now).  I’ve sent out Google Forms to see which apps should be put on the iPads going out to our next school with the tech upgrade.  I’ve sent out a Google Form to obtain information on how people like to receive their PD.  I’m glad I sent those out.  The results are not what I expected (that’s a whole other post!).

I feel like this year has been kind of the shotgun effect.  I tried many different methods of trying to spread the edtech word: weekly disctrict-wide emails, personal conversations, weekly Techie Lunches in my computer lab, random emails to people who would appreciate different resources I found on Twitter (thanks, PLN!), etc.   Somehow I feel like the 80/20 rule can be applied here somewhere, and I’m looking forward to going through my survey results in a couple days when the window closes.

To be honest, our district is WAY behind where it could be.  We are still proud to be moving into using PowerPoint instead of an overhead, and yet as the only connected educator in my district,  I am on the Internet seeing classrooms like this one where 4th and 5th graders are backchanneling a Skype conversation with Twitter and GDrive, while others are preparing a blog post and still others recording the whole lesson.

So.

I put on my administrator hat, stepped back, and looked at the whole picture.  I dug around on the website and found our Technology Vision Statement.  The good news is that it’s decent  (The bad news is that I had to dig for it).  I then searched for other people in my position on the Internet.  I found good stuff from Bill Ferriter, Kim Cofino, and Nancye Blair, just to name a few.

Then, based on my personal reflections and what I learned from others, I came up with the skeleton of a plan:

1.  Start by communicating the big picture.  Share the district’s vision for technology integration, and share instances of some other classrooms around the world who are practicing our vision to the nth degree.  “This is what’s out there folks, and this is where you COULD be if you want to.  And I will help you get there.”  [I know, the whole buy-in piece is missing.  I’d like to be able to work on this for a good bit of time with the staff as a whole, but I’ve been told that time is limited; this year alone, I had at least a day and a half of School Improvement time rerouted from tech to something else!]

2.  Continue to build relationships with teachers.  Fortunately, that’s always been pretty easy for me, and I can enumerate dozens of examples where the relationships I have nurtured have paid back huge dividends.

3.  Model good teaching.  Start where the student (in this case the teacher) is, set attainable goals, and keep planting those seeds for their next step while fully supporting and celebrating their current efforts.  Realize that not everyone is going to jump in with both feet (as I tend to do!).  Use baby steps, and have the teachers become familiar with that one puzzle piece before showing them another.

I’m interested to see what others have to suggest.  I am passionate about education and helping people be the best they can be.  I also strongly believe that technology can take us to levels we haven’t even dreamed of yet in education.  Please comment or email with your insights!

21st Century Teacher Skill: Embracing Change

Alternately titled, “Buck Up, Sissypants!”

As I spend some quiet time on this Snow Day catching up on some computer work, I take a moment to reflect on all the issues swirling around my district’s educators right now.  While the entirety of this list may be unique to just me, I’m sure many of them affect you, too.  Among them:

1.  Trying to pass a $.49 increase in the Education Fund tax rate to make up for delinquent payments from the State.

2.  Planning iPad implementation at another school next year, and trying to figure out how to excite/involve teachers.

3.  Finding time to educate myself on edtech tools and trends so that I can pass on the best to my teachers.

At the heart of it all bubbles up this resentment – why should I have to work so hard to cajole other teachers into keeping current?  How is it my responsibility to motivate them into wanting to do better for kids?  Why is providing exemplary customer service a mantra for everyone else except teachers?  I think that when we interview teacher candidates, one of the most important questions we can ask them is, “Describe a time in your life when you had to stretch out of your comfort zone.  What was the issue, what was your response, and what did you take away from your experience?”

I find myself remembering an episode from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ where Leonard’s mom tells him to “Buck Up, Sissypants!”*  and I want to start off a staff meeting with this quote.  And just sit there for a good 10 seconds of silence.

But then I think that maybe I’m the one who needs to quit being a sissy pants and to “Buck Up.”  Baby steps, Matt, baby steps.

*Season 5, Episode 2

A Shard of Chaos

Yesterday afternoon, the Superintendent of our district, Dr. Todd Koehl, sent out an email to the staff and to the Board in which he tries to make sense of the Sandy Hook Incident.  It’s worthy of sharing with others because it touches on some fundamental truths about our school system and perhaps why the damage caused by this incident (and ones like this) can be felt across the US.
 
This is a sad day.  A young man, mad at the world, walks into his mother’s school, shoots several students students, the principal, teachers and staff, and then kills himself.  There is no real sense in this.
 
We could debate a variety of issues with this killing spree, but none of the debatable issues is as basic as the fact that the killer was most likely known to the staff who man the door and welcomed in.   A school is a safe place where people are known.  A school operates on the basis community, partnerships, possibilities.  A school is the one place where when your innocence is destroyed, you can go to revel in it, even if it is for  the sole purpose of destroying it for someone else so that they suffer the way you have.  
 
I believe that it is the betrayal of this basic innocence, manifested in trust, hope, promise, that spurs the kind of destruction and tragedy that happened today at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Something went terribly wrong for this young man and his anger and despair overcame his sense of right and he acted in the way that settled his internal conflict with the loss of innocence.
 
This person’s mom may have worked anywhere so this could have happened anywhere.  But, it didn’t.  It happened in a place built on hope and promise and operating in trust and respect.  Schools have a uniqueness about them that resonates with all of us. They have a certain smell, a certain order, a certain comfort.  Hardly anyone can walk into a school and not drop into the kind of routine inherent to the system.  In essence, for a great number of Americans, school is the blueprint of our childhood: books, desks, breaks, summers, teachers, recess, buses all hung on a specific framework upon which we grew up and from which we detached ourselves at the right time. For the most part, we all share this common experience.  In this sense, schools are ubiquitous.
 
As teachers we return to school for the order, the framework, the innocence. This is at the core of our decision to teach.  We can read the blueprint of the framework and help others to learn to embed it and then leave it.  We protect, nurture, and grow the innocence.  Throw aside all of the negative press that has dominated teaching in the last year and get back to the basic reason that you, we chose the profession:  we love school.  We love, the smell, the order, the comfort.  We love the trust, the hope, the promise inherent in each day.  The tragedy of this day is that someone stepped into that world seeking justice for something lost by robbing others of it.  There is a certain parallelism to this, but not real sense.
 
Tonight I encourage you all to think about school and what it means to you.  I have been in school almost my whole life since I was 5, and I have never been through a time when schools were so much at the front of so much controversy.  Today’s event, however, has shed some light on the issues surrounding our schools.   We hold something that others have lost and are seeking to redeem: trust, hope, promise, and innocence.  Let’s find a way to share this with our families, friends, and community so that we never share the darker history of Sandy Hook.